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Poland at 100 Years of Independence

The hundredth anniversary of the reclamation of Polish independence is cause to celebrate. Poles will celebrate. Yet national and international responses will also be colored by the nation’s recent political controversies, and the tensions of international liberalism. I suspect…

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Reconstruction and the End of History

The years between 1865 and 1877 form the period in American history known as Reconstruction—reconstruction, in this case, meaning the rebuilding of the federal Union which had been dis­rupted by the attempt of eleven Southern states to secede from that Union in order to protect legalized slavery. It might have been a new era of…

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Confucianism and Meritocracy: Light from the East

Ex oriente lux. With the spring academic term finished, I am in Japan and China, ostensibly to give papers at several Japanese and Chinese universities, but really to learn more about meritocracy debates in contemporary Asia. There has been a heated debate going on there among political theorists about the forms of governance most consistent with ancient Confucian political thought. The debate tracks the theoretical shadowboxing Confucian scholars have been doing for the last two…

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An Anatomy of Radicalism

What is radicalism really about? When does it make sense? Do we need it now? These seem to be impossibly abstract questions. At first glance, everything turns on the substantive commitments of those who purport to be radical. Do they believe in theocratic rule? In authoritarianism? In decentralization? In economic growth? In liberalism? In the collapse of liberalism? In property rights? In free markets? In self-government? In liberty? In freedom from discrimination on the basis of race and sex? In executing or imprisoning…

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North Korea’s Search for Totality

In early April, I participated in the Pyongyang Marathon, organized for the birthday of the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung (1912–1994), founder of the Kim dynasty. He is the father of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il (1941–2011), and the grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong-un. Our tour…

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Nicholas II: A Tsar’s Life for the People?

On July 16 and 17, Russia will mark one of the most sensitive centenaries in its recent history: the slaughter of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, his wife (the Anglo-German Empress Alexandra), five children, and four remaining servants at point-blank range by a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918. Beyond Russia’s borders, the Great War was…

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Robert Kaplan’s World

In 1994, five years after the Berlin Wall fell, American businessmen, journalists, and foreign policy intellectuals generally remained under the trance of the “end of history.” Events still shook enlightened consciences—the Rwandan genocide, the Yugoslav Wars, the first World Trade Center attack—but for the most part, the end of the Cold War brought with it a newfound faith in the power of international institutions to resolve these conflicts. Faith in the inexorable trends of democratization and globalization was high. In stepped Robert D. Kaplan…

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The European Banking Union: Intentions and Reality

Emmanuel Macron’s recent proposals for European reform have concentrated on fiscal issues but also include the demand that the European banking union should be completed, since its third pillar (a pan-European deposit guarantee scheme) is not yet implemented. The formation of the European banking union, initiated in 2012, is the last major reform in Europe…

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Italy’s Organic Crisis

The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci coined the term “organic crisis” to describe a crisis that differs from ”ordinary” financial, economic, or political crises. An organic crisis is a “comprehensive crisis,” encompassing the totality of a system or order that, for whatever reason, is no longer able to generate societal consensus (in material or ideological terms). Such a crisis lays bare fundamental contradictions in the system that the…

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Europe under Merkel IV: Balance of Impotence

Europe, as organized—or disorganized—in the European Union (EU), is a strange political beast. It consists, first, of the domestic politics of its member states that have, over time, become deeply intertwined. Second, member states, which are still sovereign nation-states, pursue nationally defined interests through national foreign policies within intra-European international relations. Here, third, they have…

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